Walking into an area grocery store, a member of the Loblaws group, I was pleased to still see the signs up announcing that they sell produce from 450 Ontario farms; a nice, subtle way to remind shoppers to buy Canadian.
Then I noticed, below one sign, a display of dark red sweet cherries. My mouth watered – I hadn’t missed them after all. Sweeping up two bags, one for us and one for a friend who also shares my love of this fruit, something made me stop and look at the bag. They were “product of USA”!
I looked up at the Ontario farm sign then down at the cherries. Below the display was a smaller, white sign advising they were an American fruit. Another shopper reached for a bag and I pointed out the white sign, telling her, “They are American.” She looked up at the Ontario Farm sign which was in full view of everyone entering the store. Like me, she put her cherries back.
I wondered how many others had been duped into buying these imports by a poorly placed sign advertising Ontario farm goods. I went in search of the produce manager.
This is not the first time I have taken stores in this chain to task for misleading and/or completely incorrect signage. Years ago, I was planning on taking advantage of a sale on Ontario grown potatoes but I could only find a pile of American spuds being sold at the advertised sale price. The produce manager, when cornered over the discrepancy, did apologize but said that was what he had received as the sale item. But, as I left the store, I saw two workers dismantling the pile and replacing it with Canadian tubers.
Another time a reader of my local columns contacted me, furious that she had been tricked (her word) into buying an 18 egg carton of what turned out to be American eggs. She sent pictures of the carton, a red maple leaf beside the company name plus the word “Canadian” featured prominently. It was only when you looked closer that “product of USA” could be seen in small writing on the edge.
I complained to the egg company who said we don’t produce enough eggs in Canada. Really? I contacted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency who oversee packaging. They eventually replied that the maple leaf and word “ Canadian” referred to the company, not what the carton contained. And the country of origin was clearly marked on the carton if you looked. Those cartons are still sold in groceries today.
But back to the cherries. This time the produce manager was not in the store so I had to do my explaining/complaining to another manager who agreed to relay the message. We stood at the cherry display and she could see my concern. Walking into the store, the first thing you saw was the “450 Ontario farms” promotion, then the cherries. Few if any looked at that small white card on the display saying “ USA”. As we stood there, several more shoppers reached for the bags but replaced them when told, “They are American.” Each person looked directly at the Ontario sign until I pointed out the smaller white one. I was promised that the display would be changed.
The next day a friend told me that the green and yellow Ontario farm sign had been removed from above the cherries. However, Ontario farm signage was above the adjacent tomatoes and cucumbers, all from Ontario. Better but not perfect. I would have preferred the cherries be moved.
More recently, in another store of the same chain and their “450 Ontario farms” promotion that signage had also been removed from over the cherries.
As I have told these store managers, it angers me that they imply one location of growth then stick in an import. It is dollars earned from our Ontario farm that pays them so the least they can do is honestly represent us.
When buying your groceries, don’t assume, look for and carefully read the signs. Buy Canadian every chance you can. What goes around, comes around.
As for my cherries, I guess I have missed them this year.
Angela Dorie is an agricultural writer and a Jersey farmer near Cornwall.